Against the backdrop of a government already overwhelmed with the task of addressing one of the highest rates of COVID-19 infection in the world, on 9 November 2020, Peru’s President Martín Vizcarra was impeached and forced out of office. It is thought that his strong anti-corruption agenda caused him to clash with members of Congress who then utilised the charge of “moral incapacity” on the grounds of alleged corruption to seize his political power and avoid being judged for corruption themselves.
This impeachment and the subsequent installation of former President of Congress, Manuel Merino, who had repeatedly disagreed with Vizcarra over presidential reform, brought millions of Peruvians out onto the streets.
Rut Pérez Saldarriaga, who is part of the coordinating team of Renew Our World Peru and works with Paz y Esperanza, attended the mass protests against Vizcarra’s impeachment.
“Most of us thought it was not the time to impeach our president,” says Rut. “We were in the middle of this pandemic and presidential elections are going to happen in April anyway. This was a huge thing for Congress to change – just another problem to put on our country. We already have a health problem with the pandemic, economic and social problems, and now political problems and instability.
Most of us also believe that the reason Congress was saying Vizcarra demonstrated “moral incapacity” for corruption was not a real reason to impeach him. According to our Peruvian Constitution, presidents can’t be prosecuted during their mandate, but they can be after they finish, which was the majority of our population demands. So when Vizcarra was impeached and Merino made President, we couldn’t accept it. That’s why the protest marches started from the 9th of November until the 14th, when two young people died.
Paz y Esperanza is part of an organisation here called the National Coordinator for Human Rights. So we as Paz y Esperanza are really close with so many organisations and people that were part of these marches. That night, the 14th, was really awful because we heard about the protesters who died and we were so scared for our friends. I was scared of what was happening, so scared that the police were taking youth to the police station just for protesting when this is not against the law.”
These marches ultimately led to the almost unheard of situation of a third president taking office in the space of just one week, not however before new laws were introduced to protect police officers against prosecution for violence they commit during protests. After the two young protesters were killed, Merino resigned and was replaced by Francisco Sagasti.
“We are hoping that this new president will be a bit more human; understanding and listening to the people,” says Rut. “We hope that Congress will also really listen to Peruvians.”
In a period of great instability and violence throughout Peru, Rut and her colleagues have been buoyed by the number and solidarity of young people who have made their voices heard in support of proper democracy.
“All these young people speaking up helps us to see that the work we’ve all been doing these last years is helping people understand civil action and its importance in our country,” says Rut. “Young people here in Peru are heart-broken about the injustice that is happening in their communities. That is actually really exciting because we don’t want just surface-level activism, but a deep understanding of what is occuring. Building that deep understanding and care is a long process, but maybe seeds that we have planted are starting to grow, and will continue to over time. So we hope that happens.
“It has also been really amazing to see the sense of solidarity that has grown during this time. People are helping others who don’t have much and taking care of people they don’t know. Young people are joining together with other youth that they only just met at the marches and have created health brigades. I ask myself, ‘How can we continue having that solidarity in our country?’ Because sometimes we are so afraid to join the one we don’t know, so afraid to get close to the one we don’t know, because we think it’s dangerous or we don’t trust the other. So this is a huge change in our country and I hope it grows and is reflected in other situations we have to work on in our country.”
Prayer has also played a crucial role in sustaining hope through the turmoil.
“This year we have been drawing closer to God and each other with prayer times. Hearing people praying – heartbroken, but also with so many hopes – reminds us that we are not alone in this. We are working and we are walking together, and God is listening.
“Our huge prayer is for the corruption in this country to stop. This new president has entered his position without any allegations of corruption, but I do really think that because of the system we live in that he is going to end up accused of something. That is really, really sad because the country is full of that corruption in every little decision people make. It happens to any government we have. It’s become a thing that we have normalised. So I pray for corruption to stop, for corrupt systems to collapse for the good of all living in our country.”
Please join the Renew Our World family in praying for an effective government in Peru that can handle the pandemic well, that understands the environmental crisis, that is not corrupt, and that protects human rights. Please pray that the presidential elections in April go ahead fairly. Please pray for the young people across Peru calling for justice and democracy, and for the church to use its voice well.
Keen to hear more of what Renew Our World is doing to support rural agricultural communities and environmental defenders in Latin America? Keep your eyes peeled for the next in our series of blog pieces on Peru.